Hobbies helping work

Can what you learn in your hobby help you at work? My experience says that it can, even if I did find out the hard way.

In the beginning

I started my career as a trainee laboratory technician with Anglian Water. At the time it seemed like a pretty dead end role, washing test tubes and being the general dogsbody.

With hindsight it was a wonderful starter job which provided me with a really solid understanding of laboratory techniques and water treatment processes which ultimately underpinned a great career.

However, at the time I didn’t see the possibilities and spent more energy fighting the system than actually doing my job.

By contrast away from work my hobby was racing powerful superbikes around various UK racetracks. Initially I was abysmally slow, only the power of my 1200cc Laverda saving me from the humiliation of being lapped.

If you have no talent…….

I learned very quickly that in the total absence of natural talent I was going to have to find other ways of improving.

The answers were relatively simply: learn the basics like getting the gearing right, tweaking the machinery rather than making big step changes and, most importantly, practice, practice, practice.

It took a few years but I gradually improved to the extent that I could win races and championships. There was even talk of a works supported ride at one point.

What a contrast with my attitude to my job!

I remember my then boss remarking that if I put half the effort into work as I did into racing he and I would be much happier. As it turned out he was right. Unfortunately the way it came about was definitely not on my list of “101 fun ways to make a career change“.

Crash and ………

The change came about when I crashed in practice for the Manx Grand Prix. Run on the famous lsle of Man TT course the Manx gives clubman racers like me the chance to try their hand at racing on road circuits.

After a promising start, running as high as fifth out of over hundred competitors in practice, a confusion of ambition and capability resulted in a 100+ mph crash into a stone wall and telephone pole  that my left glove twelve feet up a tree. I hate to think how it got there.

With a depressed fracture of the skull, a broken back and two broken arms it soon became clear that my racing activities would be limited for the foreseeable future. What I didn’t know at the time was that this would be turning point in my career.

Adrenalin substitutes?

Without the adrenaline rush of racing a super-bike it soon became clear to me that the rather humdrum laboratory position that I used to fund my racing would soon bore me to tears.

Talking this through with my then boss he offered me the rather pithy advice “don’t tell me what you want, show me what you can do“. I have written about the outcomes of that discussion in my post “How I escaped a life of grind“.

The point of this post is that to make my escape I started using the same techniques as I used to improve my racing in my work.

By this I mean that I focused on learning the basics of each task until I could do them really well and only then looking for something extra to add.

After 6 months or so, with a sound knowledge of my core work in the bank, I then started looking for ways to improve the tests and procedures that my work required.

This worked really well, to the extent that I was moved form the main lab to be part of the quality team.

And the difference was…….

This was a huge step forward for me, even if I didn’t really know why at the time. With hindsight, that most wonderful commodity, the key difference was that my new role required me to refine existing procedures and develop new, more efficient ones rather than just having to simply “follow the recipe“.

The big principle that I learnt from this experience is that if you are serious about having a great career, as opposed to just keeping your job, you need to find an area of work that suits your personality and interests you.

It seems simple, even obvious, but applying this principle when making career choices has stood me in great stead over the last 25 years. Does it work? I think my 9 promotions since I started using the approach speaks for itself.

And finally

Did you find this post interesting? Would you like to say something about it? Please don’t hesitate to leave a comment or start a discussion.


Bob Windmill

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